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FaceBook Healthcare-Related Ads (May 2010)

May was a busy month for new FaceBook healthcare-related ads … well, at least it was on my FaceBook profile.  The ads that stood out the most were the EpiPen ad (the 1st Canadian pharma FaceBook ad by King Pharmaceuticals) and the Ontario’s Community Pharmacies ads (16 versions of the ad throughout the month).

Previous posts on FaceBook healthcare-related ads that targeted my FaceBook profile can be found here, here, here, here and here.

    This post is by no means an endorsement of any of the products or services depicted in the ads, nor is it a critique of the ads themselves.

    Stay in touch,
    Natalie

    Connect with me on the following networks:
    FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn

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    Angry Pharmacists Turn to Social Media for Lobbying

    Most people think of social media as a marketing tool, but it can be useful to achieve all sorts of objectives, including lobbying.

    The Ontario’s Community Pharmacies have leveraged several social media tactics for lobbying purposes, and they are focusing on mainstream sites.

    If you live in Ontario and have visited your FaceBook profile during the months of April and May, there are good chances that you would have noticed an ad stating that ‘Your Pharmacy is at Risk‘.  In fact, during this period, I noticed at least 15 different versions of this ad.  The copy was always the same, but the image was different.  See all the ads that appeared on my personal FaceBook profile and ad board below;

    On May 17, I noticed a similar ad, but with a more dramatic header: “Danger for Local Pharmacy”.   I only saw this ad once and it seemed to have disappeared thereafter, having been replaced by the ads with the original header.  I only saw this particular ad once, as the ads appeared to have quickly reverted back to the original header.  In fact, all of the ads seemed to have disappeared completely sometime during the week of May 17th.

    When you clicked on the ads, they linked to StopCuts.ca, a website by Ontario’s Community Pharmacies (which, by the way, contains a lot of similar content as what appears on the official Ontario’s Community Pharmacies website).  The website, and associated social media tactics (RSS, FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube, and several methods to contact the government), were initiated as a strategy to counteract the threat of governmental cuts to community health care.  This post is not meant to promote nor discredit the strategic objectives of the lobbying campaign, but rather to look at the social media components that make up the campaign.

    Ontario’s Community Pharmacies has a rather popular FaceBook page, with 14,892 fans (`likes`) as of May 25 2010.  The FaceBook page seems to be rallying a lot of support from pharmacists and consumers ready to lobby the government.  The wall of the page is loaded with comments from supporters providing each other with tips and resources to assist with the lobbying activities and events.

    The group also has a Twitter account with the username “ONPharmacies”,  which has 325 followers and is listed 8 times as of May 25 2010.  The discussion and chatter is constant and abundant on the FaceBook page, but it seems to be non-existent on the Twitter account.  There is a hashtag for #stopcutsdotca, but when you look at the real-time usage of this hashtag, it seems to be almost solely used by the ONPharmacies account.  This could be because Canadians, in general, have lagged in the adoption of Twitter.

    And finally, there is a YouTube channel which boasts 31,346 views of all their videos since the channel was created on January 10 2010.  According to a quick calculation, there have been approximately an average of 265 views of the Ontario Community Pharmacists’ videos on a daily basis (but I’m sure there were peak periods when large lobbying activities were taking place, and lull periods in between).

    To find out if Ontario’s Community Pharmacies had any blogger outreach as part of this campaign, I searched IceRocket.com’s blog section to see if there were any blogs that either mentionned the organization’s name, or linked to the StopCuts.ca website.   This search demonstrated that during the months of April and May, 9 blogs had covered a story that either included the organization’s name or linked to their website.  The low number of blogs that included an article about the organization, as well as the fact that the blog posts ranged within a 2-month period, suggests that there was no active blog outreach as part of this campaign. This may have been a supportive tactic, but I think the group’s outreach has been very effective on FaceBook and YouTube, therefore they are probably better off to continue focusing on these two venues.

    The one question that I am left with is whether most followers and fans of the Ontario’s Community Pharmacies’ groups are pharmacists and their employees, or whether there is a large consumer group rallying behind the Ontario’s Community Pharmacies in support of their cause. Based on the type of comments written on the FaceBook wall, my guess is that it is the former (but this group may just have been the most vocal). Either way, it is amazing to see a bunch of people who feel very passionately about a topic gather and communicate together in an open online forum.

    Stay in touch,
    Natalie

    Connect with me on the following networks:
    FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn

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    The 1st Canadian Pharma Ad on FaceBook?

    A brave Canadian pharmaceutical company has taken the plunge and is giving FaceBook direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising a try. King Pharmaceuticals has been promoting its EpiPen.ca website via the following English and French FaceBook ads:

    The call-to-action is to take the allergy risk test, but it appears as though the main objective of the site itself is to introduce the new EpiPen and EpiPen Jr (0.3 and 0.15 mg epinephrine) Auto-injectors (“EpiPen”) to Canadian consumers and healthcare professionals.  Both the FaceBook ads and the site are DTC advertising.

    Although King Pharmaceuticals launched the new EpiPen and EpiPen Jr Auto-Injectors on April 14 2010, I first noticed the FaceBook ad on Monday May 10th 2010.  Of course, it is possible that the ad was launched sooner and that it just came to my attention later.

    Can a prescription Rx brand copy this social media model?

    EpiPen falls under “ethical pharmaceuticals” in the regulatory system.  However, it is not a schedule F product (prescription required for sale).  Therefore, section c01.044 of Canada’s Food and Drug Regulations Act (which limits pharmaceutical DTC advertising to only product name, price, quantity) does not apply.  To promote a prescription product (Schedule F) in a FaceBook ad (DTC), only the product name, price and quantity would be allowable because it is a public direct-to-consumer placement.  Since the PAAB approves campaigns as a whole, this would also apply to any website that the FaceBook ad would link to.  For more information about Canadian regulatory requirements for prescription products promoted in social media, see Highlights from “Social Media Marketing in Pharma: What Works in Canada” or contact Patrick Massad at the PAAB.  If you are interested in learning more about Canadian regulatory guidelines for other types of healthcare products, you might like this article.

    Is this the first Canadian pharma ad on FaceBook?

    As far as the ads that I have seen on my personal FaceBook profile, this is the first one that I have seen from a Canadian pharmaceutical company.  There may have been others.  I might have missed them, or perhaps I was not part of the target market for the ad.  So unless somebody tells me otherwise, I do believe that this is the very first branded FaceBook ad by a Canadian pharmaceutical company.  In fact, I have not seen an unbranded FaceBook ad by any Canadian pharma companies.  I you know of others, then please share in the comments section.

    Is the FaceBook ad driving traffic to the EpiPen.ca website?

    Since the EpiPen FaceBook ad seems to have the objective of driving unique visitor traffic to the EpiPen.ca website, it is reasonable to track traffic to the site as an ROI measurement.  As an outsider, I will use data from Alexa and Compete. The following data and snapshot were taken on May 12 2010:

    • Alexa traffic rank as of May 12 2010 is 1,562,812
    • Alexa traffic rank in Canada is 27,244.
    • 1,177 monthly unique visitors to the website in February 2010.

    In a few months, I’ll take another look at the data from these two sources to see if the website gets a peak in their traffic.  This could create some interesting discussion.  Stay tuned !!

    Congratulations to King Pharmaceuticals for taking this innovative step.

    Stay in touch,
    Natalie

    Connect with me on the following networks:
    FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn

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    Accu-Check Engaging with Diabetes Influencers and Patients

    In October 2009, Roche Diagnostics launched a Canadian social site called Accu-Check Diabetes Link.  Despite a rather clean and simple look, there appear to be several opportunities within the site to influence the user’s experience. There is the site itself, which encompasses;

    • a blog:  You can subscribe to the blog via RSS or e-mail.  You can also share the blog articles, but you cannot add comments.

    • links to various diabetes online resources: “What we’re reading”,
    • diabetes news from online sources: “In the News”,
    • a widget called ‘The NESTwhich helps diabetes tweeps stay in contact with one another and even introduce themselves to the diabetes community on Twitter.  The NEST widget can easily be shared and posted anywhere online.  It was created by Ignite Health, Incendia Health Studios.

    • as well as product and corporate information (see tabs at the top of the home page “Accu-Check Products” and “About”).

    The site also leads the user to a few external Accu-Check social networks such as FaceBook, Twitter and YouTube.  There is some level of promotion of Accu-Check products and programs on all sites, but the YouTube channel appears to contain the most promotional content:

    The FaceBook (under “Info”), Twitter and YouTube profiles all have a disclaimer to inform visitors that the information provided may not be approved or suitable for all countries;

    What is the objective of the Accu-Check Diabetes Link site?

    The motivation that eventually led to the Accu-Check Diabetes Link social site was to reach out to people with diabetes and help connect them to information and resources that could help them lead more healthy lives.

    What steps did Roche Diagnostics take initially before implementing the social site?

    In order to determine how to do this, the very first step that Roche Diagnostics took consisted of active listening.   In July 2009, 29 diabetes bloggers (diabetes POLs which Roche Diagnostics refers to as ‘D-Bloggers’) visited the Roche Diagnostics headquarters in Indianapolis.   The objective of this ‘Roche Social Media Summit’ was to better understand their concerns and discover areas where the bloggers and Roche Diagnostics could work together.  The bloggers’ feedback helped shape the Diabetes Link pilot program in Canada. It would be interesting to know which countries the 29 bloggers came from, and how many were from Canada.  But unfortunately I don’t have that information to share with you.

    Other than the existing Canadian pilot site, are there other Diabetes Link sites currently available?

    Roche Diagnostics has not launched another Diabetes Link site in any another country …. yet !  The Diabetes Link site is still fairly new, therefore it will take some time for the Accu-Check team to learn from the Canadian pilot and then apply these learnings to other selected markets.  But it sounds as though there are plans to launch similar sites in other countries.  (Thanks Roche Diagnostics for choosing Canada as your starting point !!)

    Where do the site visitors come from?

    According to Roche Diagnostics’ data, the site gets substantial global traffic, most of which comes from Canada.

    How is the site being promoted to patients?

    Traffic to the site is organically driven thus far, suggesting there is little if any promotion at all.  Although nobody at Roche Diagnostics told me this, I am assuming that the limited or lack of promotion of the site might be because this is a pilot site.  It will be interesting to see what type and level of promotion will take place when sites will be officially set up for bigger markets.

    Why is there no ‘comment’ box in the blog posts?

    Social media is a big step for a regulated company, and as recently seen with several recent pharma programs, there are certain risks in getting involved with social media.  Roche Diagnostics is keen on having having a conversation with their stakeholders, and they are interested  in providing the channels to allow their stakeholders to have discussions with one another on their site, but the decision has not yet been made on how to implement this.  They already have several social media channels to consider for this purpose, such as the Diabetes Link site, FaceBook fan page, and so on, and there are other options to consider as well.

    How is ROI being measured?

    As a pilot program, Diabetes Link is an experiment to discover the most effective ways to build relationships that are beneficial to the diabetes community as a whole.  Roche Diagnostics is hoping to get a better understanding of this before setting up ROI measurements.

    What information did Roche Diagnostics senior management team need before approving this social media project?

    They wanted to make sure that the organization had the resources needed to provide the community with helpful information and knowledge as swiftly and prudently as possible.

    What departments are involved in managing this social media pilot program?

    Marketing, PR, customer service, legal and regulatory have all been involved with this effort.  As Diabetes Link is a pilot program, resources are being pulled as they become necessary.  This will help Roche Diagnostics build a more formal management process for future sites.

    Update April 12 2010, 2:00 pm: CONGRATULATIONS to the Roche Diagnostics and Accu-Check team for being nominated a finalist for the Dosie awards, in the Best Brand Sponsored Patient Community !!

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    Many thanks to Robert Muller (Social Media Consultant, Global Marketing, Roche Diagnostics, Diabetes Care) who provided me with some additional insights with regards to the Accu-Check Diabetes Link site.

    Stay in touch,
    Natalie

    Connect with me on the following networks:
    FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn

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    Big Canadian Pharma Hoping to Make Video go ‘Viral’

    Many Canadian companies donate to charitable organizations.  They write a cheque, have a press release with a photo of key people from both organizations holding a mega-sized cheque, and oftentimes the promotion fizzles from that point on.

    Pfizer Canada Inc. is taking a unique approach in ensuring that its sponsorship of Canada’s Paralympics Team gets noticed by Canadians, all while promoting their MoreThanMedication.ca website.  Last week, Pfizer Canada posted a video honouring Canada’s Paralympics Team on their MoreThanMedication.ca website, which features the strength and passion of Team Canada sledge hockey player Todd Nicholson.

    The objective is to make the video go ‘viral’ and get viewed by as many Canadians as possible in order to raise awareness about the Paralympics taking place in Vancouver, and the determination and passion of the Paralympics athletes.  Viewers of the video are encouraged to share it with their friends and networks either via FaceBook, Twitter, Digg, Delicious, or even by e-mail.  Everytime they do so, Pfizer donates $5.00 (Cdn) to the Canadian Paralympics Team, up to a maximum of $50,000 (Cdn).

    Here is the statement that automatically appeared on my Twitter and FaceBook accounts when I clicked on the share button.  Notice that there is no mention of Pfizer or of the $5 donation.  Personally, I believe a mention of the donation by Pfizer would have peaked more people’s interest and would have increased the number of views;

    I also saved the video on Delicious and gave it the thumbs up on Digg, but so far it appears that only two people have done so on these particular networks.

    In order to reach its goal of $50,000, the video needs to be shared 10,000 times.   By early Monday morning, March 14th, approximately an entire week after having launched the video, the digital counter on the MoreThanMedication.ca website showed that Pfizer had raised a total of $20,400 via the sharing of the video so far, which equates to 4,080 views.

    Note that this is the number of views, not the number of unique viewers.  For example, I shared the video via all 5 methods that were made available (Twitter, FaceBook, Delicious, Digg and e-mail), which counts as 5 views.  But one also needs to consider that it is possible that more people viewed the video and shared it and that these ‘shares’ did not get counted for the donation. For example, if somebody shared the video by retweeting or copying and pasting the statement into their profiles without going directly through the MoreThanMedication.ca website, these ‘shares’ would not be counted.  This is because Pfizer is monitoring the number of ‘shares’ via their internal web analytics.

    Although the campaign is meant to raise awareness within the Canadian population, viewers from other countries are not prevented from sharing the video and contributing to the donation per view.

    After the campaign is completed, it would be interesting to get a breakdown of the percentage of viewers who shared the video link via e-mail, FaceBook, Twitter, Digg and Delicious.  My guess is that e-mail and FaceBook will be the two predominant methods of sharing of the video.  Here are some statistics to support my rationale;

    1) Despite the fact that the share of Canadian Internet visits surpassed e-mail in April 2009 (HitWise, May 2009, chart below), e-mail is still ranked in 4th position.

    2) The most popular social network with Canadians is FaceBook.  Canadians have low awareness of Digg and Delicious, and appear to minimally use these social bookmarking networks (CNW Group and Leger Marketing, Social Media Reality Check, April 2009, chart below).

    What about YouTube?

    So far, I have been unsuccessful in finding the Paralympics video by Pfizer on YouTube.  It would have been interesting to see how many views the video could have had via YouTube, especially considering that YouTube is the 2nd most used social network by Canadians according to the CNW Group and Leger Marketing study.  My gut tells me that this medium was intentionally not included because Pfizer Canada wants Canadians to visit the MoreThanMedication.ca website, and posting the video on YouTube may have diluted this particular objective.  However, I do believe that the video would have more viral ability if it were made available on a Pfizer Canada channel on YouTube.  What are your thoughts on this?

    A purely Canadian initiative:

    Pfizer Canada’s MoreThanMedication.ca website is a purely Canadian campaign, as is the video honouring Canada’s Paralympics Team.

    Canadian regulatory guidelines:

    The campaign appears to be fully within the Canadian regulatory guidelines as there do not appear to be any product mentions on either the website or the videos.

    Pfizer Canada has tested social media before:

    Some of you may recall that Pfizer tested the social media environment last year with their “Be Brave” campaign.  This was another campaign devised to raise funds for another charitable organization, Starlight Children’s Foundation.  The only sharing option at the time appears to have been e-mail. According to the information that I found on their MoreThanMedication.ca website, it appears as though they reached their objective of raising $50,000 via the sharing of this particular video.

    Search “Be Brave Pfizer” in YouTube, and you will find that the “Be Brave” video that was posted on the CNW Group channel garned 22,230 views over the past year, which ranks it as the 2nd most watched YouTube video on the CNW Group channel.

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    Many thanks to Veronica Piacek, Director Consumer Communications & Relations at Pfizer Canada, for taking the time to share her insights with me regarding this Pfizer social media campaign.

    Congratulations to the Pfizer Canada team, and their suppliers who have assisted them with the video in honour of the Canadian Paralympics Team;  Klick Communications (morethanmedication.ca website), Zig Toronto (video creation) and Strategic Objectives (PR agency).  And most of all, best wishes in making the Canada’s Paralympics Team video a viral success and raising $50,000.

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    What do you think of this Canadian pharma social media example?  What would you do the same, what would you do differently?  There is no judgement here, it is just a discussion so that we can learn from one another.

    Stay in touch,
    Natalie

    Connect with me on the following networks:
    FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn

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    CAMH – Mental Health Conversations on Wikis, Podcasts, and Mainstream Social Media

    This week, my blog series will be focusing on several Canadian online healthcare social networks.  This is part 5 of 5.  The previous posts of the series can be found here;

    The featured Canadian healthcare social network for today is the CAMH Knowledge Exchange site.  I saved this one for last because it is unique compared to all the others that we have visited over the past week, in that the target audience for the online community consists of healthcare professionals mostly, with one special feature for caregivers and families.

    It was serendipity that brought me to this site, because I was searching through the CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) site to see if they were hosting any kind of online social networks for their patients / clients.  This seemed like a reasonable spot to search considering that the Forrester Inc. Research, April 22 2009 report suggests that people afflicted with mental illnesses tend to be active participants and may benefit the most from online social networking.

    As I scoured through the CAMH site, I came across a page called ‘Knowledge Exchange’, which included a wiki.  The wiki had very little content, but it looked interesting nonetheless.  It is at that point that I connected with Krystyna Ross, the Publisher and Manager of Publication Services at CAMH, and discovered that the wiki had not even been officially launched yet.  It is scheduled to be launched in a few weeks, and only a handful of people have had the opportunity to use the site for beta testing purposes.  You get a sneak peek of the beta version before it goes live!

    What is CAMH Knowledge Exchange?

    CAMH Knowledge Exchange is different than the overarching CAMH.net site in that it is specifically designed for healthcare professionals (HCP) (Psychiatrists, social workers, policy makers, nurses, pharmacists, allied professionals).  The objective is to collect reliable information for this target audience and to provide them with practical tools and resources.  The tools and resources will not be exclusive to CAMH info, but will also include linking to other sites and articles with info that are deemed to be valuable for the HCPs.

    In order to be a single source of reliable info, the site also features collaborative tools, such as the wiki, as well as blogging and discussion board capabilities.  Other features are planned for future implementation.  Users will have the option to set up secured and partially-secured shared work spaces.  A couple of wiki projects have already started during the beta period; an international group of HCPs is working together on a paper and another group is revising guidelines related to mental health.

    Another key audience for the Knowledge Exchange site consists of the primary care physicians.  According to CAMH, family physicians and general practitioners are the ones who see the most patients with mental health and addiction problems.  Therefore, CAMH will be including some very succinct information that will have practical clinical use (ie. quick screening tools, tips on when to refer or when to manage patients in own practice).  St-Joseph’s Hospital is working with CAMH on an Addiction Toolkit for primary care providers, and there will be additional toolkits to come.

    GPs may be able to participate in some wikis as well.  This will depend on the wiki and its purpose. Participation in the wikis is determined by the people running the individual wikis and their objectives.

    How will the CAMH Knowledge Exchange be promoted?

    CAMH will start promoting the Knowledge Exchange site as soon as the official launch takes place.  As part of their promotion, here is a copy of the postcard (top image is the front and bottom image is the back of the postcard) that CAMH developed in-house, which will be distributed to HCPs in the mental health and addiction field.

    Are there any CAMH social networks that are specifically geared towards the patients / clients and their families?

    Currently, there is a FaceBook fan page and two official Twitter accounts for CAMH ( for media updates, and representing the CAMH Foundation), plus a new website set up by family council that represents patients, but no customized discussion boards or online community … well at least not yet!

    Also, on January 18 2010, CAMH announced a podcast series called Teens and Tweens, features interviews with experts in adolescent mental health and addictions, and is targeted at educators, parents, social workers, and others who work with teens.  The podcast series will cover various mental health and addictions issues.  Listeners will be able to propose topics for future episodes as well as engage with other listeners on the Knowledge Exchange portal.

    Are there any advertising or sponsorship opportunities on the Knowledge Exchange site or wiki?

    At the moment, CAMH has not decided how they would like to proceed regarding external partnerships or sponsorships.  However, CAMH will have opportunities to host sites for other community agencies or HCPs who focus on mental health or addiction.  For such partnerships, only Canadian organizations / HCPs will be considered.

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    Interested in discussing partnership or sponsorship opportunities with the CAMH Knowledge Exchange, then please contact Krystyna Ross at Krystyna_Ross@camh.net .

    DISCLOSURE: I have not been paid to write this article, and the organizations mentioned are not clients.

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    This concludes part I of my blog series on Canadian online healthcare social networks.  That’s right … there is a part II coming soon, but there is a bit more work left to be done.  Stay tuned!

    Stay in touch,
    Natalie

    Connect with me on the following networks:
    FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn

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    VirtualHospice.ca : Online Palliative Care Community & Resources

    This week, my blog series will be focusing on several Canadian healthcare social networks.  This is part 4 of 5.  The previous posts of the series can be found here;

    • Upopolis: Social Media for Kids in Hospitals
    • TeenConnector.ca: Where Canadian Teens with Cancer Connect
    • CaringVoices: Princess Margaret Hospital Offers Online Support for Cancer Patients

    The featured Canadian healthcare social network for today is the Canadian Virtual Hospice.  I learned about this organization and its online community via a colleague on LinkedIn, Gail Granger, who responded to my call-out for suggestions of Canadian healthcare social online communities.  I checked the site and its online community features and found the therapeutic concept to be so different than many other online patient communities that I had been investigating, that I absolutely wanted to learn more.  Shelly Cory, the Executive Director, chatted with me about the specific challenges regarding a site focusing on the sensitive topic of palliative care.  For highlights of the discussion, see below.

    What is Canadian Virtual Hospice?

    Canadian Virtual Hospice provides online resources to patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals regarding life-limiting illness, palliative and end of life care, loss and grief.  Palliative care is an approach to care that looks at the whole person and their whole family; physical, cultural, emotional, spiritual, and financial needs at end of life.  Palliative care is appropriate  from the time somebody is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Although palliative care is often associated with cancer illness, the palliative approach is appropriate for those suffering from chronic illnesses including COPD, Alzheimers, and diabetes. The same holds true for  the VirtualHospice.ca site.  The site can assist people from the time of diagnosis and provide support through the grieving process regardless of the type of illness they have. The goal is to help people gain information, comfort and support throughout the entire continuum of care.

    The online community features offered by VirtualHospice.ca site include a public discussion forum, a FaceBook fan page, a Twitter profile and a YouTube channel.

    When was it launched?

    The VirtualHospice.ca site was developed by palliative care researchers and clinicians across Canada as a way of addressing gaps in resources and info about palliative care.  The site and the discussion forum were launched in February 2004.  Re-launched in January 2009 with new features and content, Virtual Hospice also focused on additional interactivity and set up a FaceBook fan page, a Twitter profile and a YouTube channel to facilitate engagement with patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals.  The discussion forum is currently being revamped and when completed will be more prominent on the website.

    Is it just for Canadian patients and caregivers on the network?

    The site`s discussion forum and vast repository of information is open to people from all over the world, but the “Ask a professional” service is for Canadians only.  This section is not social media, but it provides an interesting service that allows people, including healthcare professionals, to ask a question to a multidisciplinary palliative care team about their specific situation.  The team then collaborates on the answers and provides a confidential detailed response within 3 business days, and often within just 24 hours.  Half of the visitors to the site are health care providers looking for advice, patient teaching tools and other tools to support their practice.

    The Canadian Virtual Hospice FaceBook fan page, Twitter profile and YouTube channel are open to the public from all countries.

    How many members are there on the VirtualHospice.ca site, and how active are they?

    An average of 1,000 people per day visit the VirtualHospice.ca site; half of which are patients, family and friends, and the other half, healthcare providers.  Since its relaunch, the site has fielded visitors from Canada as well as 154 other countries, with the United States, Australia and France driving 20% of the website traffic.

    The user group is constantly changing because most visitors  obtain benefit from the site and the discussion forums for a finite period of time.  A person may use the site while a family member is ill and going through the grieving process, and then will move on with his or her life.  Some people come onto the discussion boards and post multiple times, but generally when people are in an end-of-life situation, they do not have a lot of time or energy to visit or participate in the forums on an ongoing basis.

    This is demonstrated in the discussion forums, where there are very few recent posts, however there are a lot of page views suggesting that people are visiting the forums and reading the discussions.  Having reviewed several online patient communities, this seems to be the norm, but it appears as though the ratio may be a bit more pronounced compared to other patient forums.

    Healthcare providers are the ones who use the  site for the long-term, therefore there is a lot of reliance on healthcare providers to promote the site to their patients.

    What role do the sponsors play?

    There are several sponsors for the Canadian Virtual Hospice website, which also includes the social media channels.  These sponsors consist of the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA), CancerCare Manitoba, the Government of Manitoba, and Health Canada. The sponsors provide funding and sometimes assist with resources as well.  For example, the Canadian Virtual Hospice sources staff, such as nurses, from WRHA to assist in answering the ‘Ask A Professional’ questions.  However, the sponsors do not provide any strategic input in the management of the organization or the site.

    How are the site and online discussion forums promoted?

    Palliative care is a sensitive topic, which is usually of interest to individuals only during their time of need.  Therefore promotion of the site directly to consumers needs to be frequent and wide-spread, which can be challenging with a limited budget.  Promoting to healthcare professionals and relying on them to inform the appropriate patients may have greater potential than trying to promote to the masses.

    However, certain tactics have proven effective.  These include niche palliative publication advertisement, niche palliative care conferences, Google ads and radio ads.  Interestingly, search engine optimization has not been as effective for Virtual Hospice as SEO typically is for a website. This may be due to differing Internet user habits among the target audience, which has a higher average age than web users in general. Media exposure  is critical for the Canadian Virtual Hospice.  When the Global National ran a story about the site in March 2009, traffic spiked substantially and the ‘Ask a Professional’ section received an instant influx of inquiries.

    Linking with other healthcare organizations has also proven to be effective in increasing awareness and driving traffic to the site.  Currently, there are over 5,000 links that lead to the virtualhospice.ca site.

    One such example of linking with other medical organizations consists of an online support group facilitated by psychosocial oncology counsellors, which are led by the BC Cancer Agency.  The Canadian Virtual Hospice promotes these groups on their site. The BC Cancer Agency provides ‘real-time’ online support for cancer patients, cancer survivors or friends and family across Canada.  These are counsellor-led online group sessions which take place over a 8-10-week period, with each session lasting 1 ½ hours.  The online discussions are closed and private, meaning that groups have the same 6-8 members attending each week, allowing members to really get to know each other over the duration of the group. The discussions are anonymous in that members chat via text only, and know each other only by first names and by the information that the members choose to share. Overall feedback has been very positive.  Patients and caregivers have described feeling a sense of connectedness, safety and relief in being able to discuss important but difficult topics with a counsellor and an understanding group of peers. Patients are learning about this program mostly due to word-of-mouth from healthcare professionals.  The partnership between the Canadian Virtual Hospice and the BC Cancer Agency is a win-win situation, as when patients leave the counsellor-led sessions, they are reminded of the virtualhospice.ca resources.  As of January 2010, 24 groups and 179 people have had the opportunity to engage with others and a counsellor, either locally or nationally, from the online program.

    To learn more about this service provided by BC Cancer Agency, take a look at the Cancer Chat Canada website.

    Is there any monitoring or editing of the content posted by the members?

    All discussions are monitored because these are exposed to a very vulnerable population.

    Are there any advertising or sponsorship opportunities on the Virtual Hospice network?

    There is no advertising on the site or the forums.  There are opportunities for non-branded sponsorship or partnership projects.  The Canadian Virtual Hospice respects the emotional drain and vulnerability of their site visitors and members, therefore any potential for influence is carefully considered.

    The Canadian Virtual Hospice clinical team has put together over 170 clinical tools developed by various palliative medical teams.  These tools are especially useful for healthcare professionals who deal with palliative care.  If a medical or pharmaceutical organization promotes palliative care drugs, they may find excellent resources on the site, and they may even wish to contribute some of their own palliative care non-branded materials.


    Challenge for a Canadian agency to show their stuff: The Canadian Virtual Hospice is looking for a creative agency interested in helping to promote the site at either no or low cost.  Palliative care is not an easy sell to people – does your agency have what it takes, and if so, care to show off your skills?  Interested?  Contact Shelly (contact info at bottom of article).


    Interested in discussing sponsorship or partnership opportunities with VirtualHospice.ca, then please contact Shelly Cory at shelly@virtualhospice.ca or (204) 477-6285.

    DISCLOSURE: I have not been paid to write this article, and the organizations mentioned are not clients.

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    Tomorrow, we will take a look at a beta site, which will allow mental healthcare professionals to collaborate online.

    Stay in touch,
    Natalie

    Connect with me on the following networks:
    FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn

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